Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review: The Cantaloupe Thief


The Cantaloupe Thief
By Deb Richardson-Moore
A Branigan Powers Mystery, #1
Lion Hudson, 2016


Summary

The decade-old death of matriarch Alberta Grambling Resnick is the only unsolved murder in Grambling, Georgia. With the passage of time, townspeople assumed the deed had been committed by a transient with no real motive or ties to the community. Newspaper reporter Branigan Powers wants to explore that theory by investigating among the town’s homeless population. Even she thinks it’s a long shot – until homeless people start dying.

As the action careens from northeast Georgia to the Carolina coast, from posh homes to hidden encampments, Branigan is racked by fear that she has awakened a murderer. Desperate, she seeks help from Malachi Ezekiel Martin, a homeless veteran who glides unseen through the town. But can she trust him?

The Cantaloupe Thief is a murder mystery but not like one you’ve read before. It asks what happens when people are invisible. What impact does that have on the rest of us?


My thoughts

With The Cantaloupe Thief, debut author Deb Richardson-Moore has penned a fantastic mystery novel – compelling, entertaining, and memorable in every way. Deb’s writing is top notch, not a single word wasted. The mystery itself is well plotted with the gradual peeling back of layers – and an ending that left me in shock. Two other strengths are the rich character depth and an unusual focus on the homeless. This is one of my all-time favorite mysteries, making Deb Richardson-Moore a “must read” for me.

The Cantaloupe Thief is published by Lion Hudson, a British publisher that I count on for excellent stories, many of which are set in Great Britain. While The Cantaloupe Thief takes place in the southeast US, it has the same feel as other Christian fiction by this publisher – a little more liberal than American standards, but nothing that I found offensive.

The story is set in the mid-size northeast Georgia town of Grambling, described in such vivid detail that it felt like a major character. As a resident of Georgia, I loved the incorporation of familiar places like Lake Hartwell and Edisto, SC. But as picturesque as Grambling might be, there was another side to it – that of the city’s homeless population, who play a big part in the story. I loved the realism of this theme and the fact that Deb conveyed their stories and thoughts in ways that made me think. Deb actually pastors the homeless at a church in South Carolina, and her caring passion is evident on every page as she gives a face and voice to the homeless.

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The worst thing about being homeless
is being looked right through.
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In investigating the cold-case murder of the wealthy Alberta Grambling Resnick ten years earlier, Branigan seeks the help of Malachi Ezekiel Martin, a homeless war veteran who is also a possible suspect. The story focuses on the concept that homeless people get overlooked, and hence see things that are concealed from the rest of the population. Malachi had “lived in Grambling’s shadows long enough to know about its underside; to know how the rich and poor, the sophisticated and the raw, the proper and the dangerous, merged after dark.” Also adding much interest to the story is that Branigan’s twin brother is a homeless addict.

I’m intrigued by Malachi and also enjoyed Branigan’s friend Liam, who runs a shelter for the homeless. Branigan, Malachi and Liam are a complex trio and I’m very eager to see these characters developed further. The Cantaloupe Thief begins a promising new series. “Best of the best” for me.

Highly recommended.

Purchase at Amazon


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        Deb Richardson-Moore is the author of a 2012 memoir, The Weight of Mercy, and a novel, The Cantaloupe Thief, to be released in June 2016. Both are published by Lion Hudson of Oxford, England.
        Deb also serves as pastor of the non-denominational Triune Mercy Center in Greenville, South Carolina, where she works to make homeless parishioners feel respected, loved – and deserving of a pastor who dresses up for them, even in high heels. She is a Greenville native and a graduate of Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC) and Erskine Theological Seminary (Due West, SC).
        She worked for 27 years as a writer for The Greenville News, covering art, theater, general features and religion. After obtaining her Master of Divinity degree in 2005 and being ordained by First Baptist Church of Greenville, she accepted the position as pastor of Triune. Triune is a church that brings homeless, working poor, middle-class and wealthy parishioners into community.
        Deb is married to Vince Moore, who is director of media relations for Furman University. They have three grown children – Dustin, Taylor, and Madison.



Thank you to Lion Hudson for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: Planted by C. T. Collier


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Planted
By C. T. Collier
The Penningtons Investigate, #1
Asdee Press (July 22, 2016)
Print Length: 309 pages
ASIN: B01FOVMCPK


Synopsis

Planted is book one of the new mystery series, The Penningtons Investigate, from award-winning author C. T. Collier. The Penningtons, Lyssa and Kyle, are both PhD’s, and when their clever minds start asking questions, clever killers can’t hide.

It’s Monday of spring break when Professor Lyssa Pennington’s backyard garden project unearths a loaded revolver. With no record of violence at their address and no related cold case, the Tompkins Falls police have no interest. But the Penningtons and a friend with the State Police believe there a body somewhere. Whose? Where? And who pulled the trigger?


The Penningtons’ canvass of their quiet neighborhood turns up disturbing secrets about the family who lived in their house for decades and another ill-fated family a few doors away. No one seems to know how to contact the only sons of either family. The few facts they have about them don't add up and, since the gun was buried about the time both young men disappeared from Tompkins Falls, the Penningtons feel compelled to find them and make sure all is well.


Lyssa follows the money story and finds twenty million dollars, a neighbor who’s not what he seems, and a long-buried rivalry. Kyle goes after homicide data in six states and finds a body. Their next surprise is a murderer who will go to any length to conceal the crime.



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C. T. Collier grew up in Seneca Falls, NY, left the area for college and jobs, and always wanted to return to the Finger Lakes. Today she lives in a beautiful small city on one of the prettiest of the Finger Lakes, not unlike fictional Tompkins Falls on lovely Chestnut Lake.

Most days you’ll find her writing in her tiny office looking out on a woods populated with fox, deer, wild turkeys, and songbirds. In her career as a tech-savvy college professor she has been endlessly fascinated with campus intrigue. Entirely fictional, Tompkins College is no college and every college.





Purchase Link: Amazon


Click here to enter the giveaway for
(1) Kindle Copy - Planted by C. T. Collier


JULY 22, 2016
Sleuth Cafe – Review

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Spotlight: She Who Knows + Tour Giveaway





She Who Knows
By Barbara Bras
Sojourn Publishing LLC, 2016


Summary

One girl’s journey from loneliness to love.

Isolated on a Maui mountaintop, Cassandra has only her imagination to keep her company. Shut in due to her heart condition and shut out emotionally by her father, she meets the Menehune in a dream. Their “Gift” enables her to take the first step away from her loneliness. Along the way she finds an amazing woman in the grandmother she never knew and experiences true friendship with a new classmate. Eventually she learns that to love another she must open her heart, even if it means it may break.

Purchase your copy of She Who Knows here.

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In 2015, Barbara Bras left her career to pursue her dream of serving God. She believed that her first step would be to share the amazing ways God had blessed her. As she wrote of her son’s miraculous adoption and the challenging years that followed, it led to the rediscovery of her entire life, including the history of her grandparents’ remarkable survival in Armenia and her search for purpose and love. Her memoir led to her first novel, which she hopes readers will find engaging and memorable.

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GIVEAWAY

To celebrate her tour, Barbara is giving away a $100 Amazon gift card, copies of She Who Knows, and Wrapped In God’s Grace.




Blog Stops

July 23: Mary Hake
July 27: A Greater Yes
July 27: Reading Is My SuperPower (Spotlight)
July 29: Splashes of Joy
July 29: Artistic Nobody (Spotlight)
July 31: Bukwurmzzz
August 2: Carpe Diem
August 3: Pause for Tales

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Through Raging Waters Celebration Tour + GIVEAWAY




Through Raging Waters
By Renee Blare
Snowy Range Chronicles, #2
Prism Book Group, 2016


Summary

If Mother Nature has her way, Timber Springs will never be the same…

A warm spring and early rainstorms melt the snowpack. Spring runoff compounded by the storm of the century sends Timber Springs into a tailspin.

Tossed into the role of rescuer, local pharmacist Paul Fitzgerald must face his past before the whole world falls apart. While he fights to contain the beast around him, he finds his steadfast control slipping through his fingers. And life…everyone’s life…hangs by a thread…once again.

She isn’t a hero. Melissa Hampton has her own demons to battle. After she learns of her mysterious beginnings amidst her mother’s keepsakes, she faces more than just the river rushing outside her door. Now, she must discern friend from foe…but as waters rise and tension climbs within Timber Springs, she needs to rise to the challenge or lose the only man she’s ever loved.

Can two people find each other through raging waters?

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        Renee Blare’s nose has been buried in a book for as long as she can remember. Raised in Louisiana and Wyoming, she started writing poetry in junior high school and that, as they say, was that. After having her son, a desire to attend pharmacy school sent her small family to the University of Wyoming in Laramie. She’s been counting pills ever since. While writing’s her first love, well, after the Lord and her husband, she also likes to fish and hunt as well as pick away on her classical guitar.
     Nestled in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, she lives in Wyoming with her husband, crazy dogs, and ornery cat. She serves her beautiful small town as a pharmacist while penning her stories about struggling Christians as they travel along the journeys of their lives. She loves to interact with readers and invites you check out her website, blog, and social media.


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GIVEAWAY

To celebrate her tour, Renee is giving away a wonderful package that includes a $20 Cabelas gift card, a set of her series paperbacks (books 1 and 2), and fleece blanket.



Blog Stops

July 19: Pause for Tales
July 24: A Greater Yes
July 25: bigreadersite
July 26: Splashes of Joy
July 29: Quiet Quilter
July 31: Bukwurmzzz
August 1: Carpe Diem

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Like a River from Its Course


Like a River from Its Course
By Kelli Stuart
Kregel, 2016


Summary

An epic novel exposing the ugliness of war and the beauty of hope.

The city of Kiev was bombed in Hitler's blitzkrieg across the Soviet Union, but the constant siege was only the beginning for her citizens. In this sweeping historical saga, Kelli Stuart takes the reader on a captivating journey into the little-known history of Ukraine's tragedies through the eyes of four compelling characters who experience the same story from different perspectives.

Maria Ivanovna is only fourteen when the bombing begins and not much older when she is forced into work at a German labor camp. She must fight to survive and to make her way back to her beloved Ukraine.

Ivan Kyrilovich is falsely mistaken for a Jew and lined up with 34,000 other men, women, and children who are to be shot at the edge of Babi Yar, the "killing ditch." He survives, but not without devastating consequences.

Luda is sixteen when German soldiers rape her. Now pregnant with the child of the enemy, she is abandoned by her father, alone, and in pain. She must learn to trust family and friends again and find her own strength in order to discover the redemption that awaits.

Frederick Hermann is sure in his knowledge that the F├╝hrer's plans for domination are right and just. He is driven to succeed by a desire to please a demanding father and by his own blind faith in the ideals of Nazism.

Based on true stories gathered from fifteen years of research and interviews with Ukrainian World War II survivors, Like a River from Its Course is a story of love, war, heartache, forgiveness, and redemption.


My thoughts

When it comes to Like a River from Its Course, there’s no way any words of mine can do it justice, so I’ll let Kelli Stuart and her characters do some of the talking. But if I had to express my thoughts in only one sentence, it would be this:  If ever a book cried out to be read, it’s this one.

What’s most amazing is that through extensive research, debut author Kelli Stuart has drawn from personal stories of survival to write this moving work of fiction, based on historical events that weren’t that familiar to me – the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine. The story is told from the first-person perspective of four main characters – and rather than me trying to describe them, I encourage you to read about them in the book’s overview above if you haven’t already. Here are some expressions of their thoughts . . .

  • Frederick:  “Ending one life to preserve another is not killing. It is saving.”
  • Ivan:  “Sometimes horrors are too great to be put into words.”
  • Luda:  “When you grow up without love, accepting it becomes almost burdensome.”
  • Masha:  “I’m scarred and emotionally beaten. The girl who left was swept away in the flood of war, but I think that girl is still somewhere inside. If only I could get back to find her.”

Like a River from Its Course is riveting, dark, raw, yet hopeful and redeeming. It reflects the essence of humanity, from total depravity to selfless, tender kindness. It’s not a light read, nor is it an easy one – but it is compelling, relevant for today, and hard to put down. Truly unforgettable.

I’m amazed at the literary quality of Kelli’s writing, for it sparkles in its beauty. She has a gift for pulling you right into the story, compelling you to experience the people, setting, and all the horrors of war in a way that is palpable. I marked several quotes that really spoke to me; here are just a few . . .

“If love gives flight to the soul, hate kills it completely.”
- Ivan

“You would be surprised, my friend, at the power in believing
in something outside of yourself. When you acknowledge that
the pain of this world is unbearable, you’re able to finally surrender
to the One who alone is worthy of carrying the weight.”
- Father Konstantin

“To believe is to trust, and when you trust, your life has meaning and purpose outside of the mere endurance of hardship.”
- Father Konstantin

And finally, one that is true yesterday, today, and tomorrow . . .

“God cannot be suppressed under the evil of man.”
- Father Konstantin

On a personal note, because I have a hard time with books set during the Holocaust, I initially passed on reviewing this book. But thanks to Christen at Litfuse Publicity, I decided to risk it and am so glad I did. For me, Like a River from Its Course is a story not to be missed.

Highly recommended.

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/28YOXRu

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Kelli Stuart is the coauthor of Dare 2B Wise and has written for several brands including Disney, American Girl, and Short Fiction Break. She has served as editor-in-chief for the St. Louis Bloggers Guild and as a board member for the St. Louis Women in Media. In addition to her writing, Kelli has spent twenty years studying Ukranian culture. Kelli lives in Florida.


Thank you to Litfuse Publicity and Kregel for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Litfuse landing page:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Bargain Pricing: Where Treasure Hides




Many readers are familiar with Johnnie Alexander’s recent contemporary romance, Where She Belongs, book #1 in the Misty Willow series. But you may not know that a few years ago, she wrote a wonderful World War II romance entitled Where Treasure Hides, published by Tyndale House. I highly recommend this novel – and the ebook edition is only $1.99 until the end of July.

Where Treasure Hides can be purchased at Amazon and other ebook retailers, $1.99 through July 31.

Here’s the review I wrote back in 2013 . . .



Summary

Artist Alison Schuyler spends her time working in her family’s renowned art gallery, determined to avoid the curse that has followed the Schuyler clan from the Netherlands to America and back again. She’s certain that true love will only lead to tragedy—that is, until a chance meeting at Waterloo station brings Ian Devlin into her life.

Drawn to the bold and compassionate British Army captain, Alison begins to question her fear of love as World War II breaks out, separating the two and drawing each into their own battles. While Ian fights for freedom on the battlefield, Alison works with the Dutch Underground to find a safe haven for Jewish children and priceless pieces of art alike. But safety is a luxury war does not allow.


My thoughts

Johnnie Alexander Donley writes stories of suspense, intrigue, and romance set in World War II. Where Treasure Hides, spanning the years from 1939 to 1945, is about a gifted artist, her father's greatest masterpiece, and the Nazi officer obsessed with having them both. This debut novel won the 2011 American Christian Fiction Writers' Genesis contest in historical fiction.

I enjoyed this book very much and consider it to be an excellent debut novel. I wasn't very familiar with either the kindertransport (immigration of Jewish children) or the role art played during the war, so these themes were very interesting to me.

While not always comfortable, I liked that Johnnie doesn't shy away from the realities of war. The Germans parachuting into Rotterdam as the occupation begins, the bombing of Alison's family home and the resulting loss - these scenes were described in such a vivid way that I could feel their grief.

With an opening set in a Waterloo train station in 1939, Johnnie creates a haunting and emotional scene between Ian, Alison, and a Jewish child named Josef that stays with you throughout the story. For Ian, "An ordinary trip to London had turned extraordinary by an immigrant boy with a violin and a young lady with a sketch pad. And his heart would never be the same again."

An interesting theme is the contrast between superstition and Christian faith. Alison is afraid to risk love because of her fear that the "family fate" will befall Ian. In the words of Alison's father, "Love your art or love that soldier. But don't think you can have them both. It's our greed that destroys us. . . . That's the truth behind the cursed 'family fate.' Thinking that because we're Van Schuylers, we can have it all. Take it all, and you'll wind up with nothing."

The part that I didn't care for was Nazi officer Theodor's pursuit of Alison, yet it was essential to the story. His words to Alison were chilling: "You have been chosen for a great privilege . . . the perfection of the human race." The epilogue, which briefly describes a scene five years later, in 1950, packs a shocking surprise, is probably realistic, and hints at a sequel.

I found this story to be an engrossing read overall and will look for future books by Johnnie Alexander. I highly recommend Where Treasure Hides to those who enjoy historical fiction.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: Something's Knot Kosher + Tour GIVEAWAY





Something’s Knot Kosher
By Mary Marks
A Quilting Mystery, #4
Kensington, 2016


Summary

Funerals can be patchy affairs for Martha Rose and her close-knit circle of friends--especially in the case of a missing body . . .

When Birdie Watson's husband Russell is killed during a bank robbery, Martha just wants to support her grieving friend. But en route to the burial plot in Oregon, Martha makes a harrowing discovery about the casket's contents--instead of Russell, she finds an unidentified man. Now Martha and her quilting klatch can't rest in peace until they unspool the truth behind the macabre mix up . . .


My thoughts

Something’s Knot Kosher, #4 in Mary Mark’s quilting series, is an enjoyable cozy mystery. Character development takes place through the series, but enough background is given that each story stands alone. Rather than feeling lost by starting with the fourth book, I’m just eager to read the previous books. I don’t expect books published in the general market to meet the same standards as the Christian fiction I review, but I was pleased that there was no profanity or explicit scenes. I didn’t particularly care for the alternative lifestyle element, although it was handled tastefully.

This series is about the adventures of Martha Rose - a sassy, sarcastic woman of a certain age - and her two quilting friends Lucy and Birdie, who have quilted together every Tuesday for sixteen years. I adore older characters and these ladies are charming, caring, and downright funny at times. And when you add Martha’s cat and a retired police German Shepherd owned by her former love interest to that quirky mix, anything can happen! I’d like to know more about Martha, especially her Jewish heritage – for while she follows Jewish dietary restrictions, nothing is revealed as to her faith.

The mystery plot surrounding the death of Birdie’s husband, Russell, is well developed and I enjoyed the logical, step-by-step searching for clues, especially the road trip from Encino, California to McMinnville, Oregon.

Baltimore Album Quilt
Something’s Knot Kosher is sure to delight quilters (beautiful cover art, by the way) – and while I don’t sew, I do love quilts. Quilting features prominently and I enjoyed all the tidbits of information scattered throughout. I had never heard of the Baltimore Album quilt that Birdie used to cover Russell’s body and had to look into it further. It was also interesting to learn that quilters often bought fabric based on their emotional reaction to it … “Either the colors or the print touched something inside that evoked a pleasant memory or feeling.”

I read somewhere that Mary Marks is a grandma who likes to quilt and tell funny stories – and her humor and knowledge shine through beautifully. I would like to read more from this series.

Purchase links:
Amazon - http://amzn.to/1V9B7zB
B&N - http://bit.ly/29U4t4h

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Born and raised in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, Mary Marks earned a B.A. in Anthropology from UCLA and an M.A. in Public Administration from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. In 2004 she enrolled in the UCLA Extension Writers Program. Her first novel, Forget Me Knot, was a finalist in a national writing competition in 2011. She is currently a reviewer of cozy mysteries for The New York Journal of Books at www.nyjournalofbooks.com.

Website │ Facebook 

Thank you to Great Escapes Book Tours for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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GIVEAWAY